Independence Day (1996)

Talk about fireworks!  Director Roland Emmerich (STARGATE) and his 
co-writing and producing partner Dean Devlin (also from STARGATE) 
have cannily combined three decades worth of popcorn pictures-- 
chiefly by drawing upon the colliding worlds of George Pal, George 
Lucas, and Irwin Allen-- to create this spectacular, super-cheesy, 
and surprisingly good-natured depiction of the end of the world as 
we know it.  The formula should be familiar to anyone under the age 
of seventy:  ominous music precedes a coming threat which is 
followed by mass destruction which is survived by an ensemble of 
stock characters who are played by B-list actors who must react to 
special effects that we know they can't see all while looking very 
serious as their characters work together to save the rest of the 
human race.  Did I miss anything?  Oh yeah, and they make a *lot* 
of jokes along the way.  

INDEPENDENCE DAY is conveniently divided into three acts.  On day 
one, titled "July 2," an armada of 15-mile wide spaceships position 
themselves over the world's major cities.  In the United States-- 
the movie focuses almost entirely on what happens in America.  
Touche international interests-- panic ensues, people head for the 
hills, and the President (Bill Pullman, probably miscast but who 
cares?) wonders if we can't all just get along.  In Los Angeles, a 
rooftop group of "New Agers" are the first to be vaporized-- an 
amusing touch-- in the most frightening firestorm seen on-screen 
since TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY.  New York and D.C. are also 
leveled, but not before Air Force One escapes.  Billions die and 
hundreds of theater seats are mangled as audience members hold on 
for dear life.

On day two, titled "July 3" and do you see a pattern here?, the 
survivors begin formulating their strategies for fighting back.  
The brain trust, congregated at a secret military installation in 
the Southwest, includes a brilliant broadcast engineer (Jeff 
Goldblum), a wise-cracking fighter pilot (Will Smith, a scene-
stealer), a suspicious Secretary of Defense (James Rebhorn), and a 
geeky government scientist played by none other than Brent Spiner, 
better known as Data from the television series "Star Trek: the 
Next Generation."  (Needless to say, his appearance causes certain 
audience members to begin foaming at the mouth.  Don't forget your 
Ritalin, boys.)  There's even a kooky crop duster on hand, played 
by Randy Quaid, who swears that he was once abducted by aliens.  
Thank goodness we're watching a movie that doesn't take itself too 

Day three is the big finale, when the President makes a cornball 
speech and everyone charges off to "whup E.T.'s ass."  This last 
hour is also the weakest section in the film.  In particular, the 
editing could use a few nips and tucks toward the end.  (Here, a 
scene runs long; there, a sequence seems slightly truncated.)  
Another suggestion for the inevitable director's cut:  add more 
scientific mumbo jumbo.  Though INDEPENDENCE DAY consistently 
adheres to its own scientific principals-- such as joysticks being 
the intergalactic standard for fighter craft controls-- even a 
*little* more explanation would go a long way to satisfying the 
nit-pickers who are currently clogging the Internet with their 
discussions of same.

INDEPENDENCE DAY is probably the most honest of the summer movies.  
Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin are, indeed, the Real Thing-- that 
increasingly rare breed of genuine showmen, whose dedication to 
their craft can seemingly survive any attempt at prepackaging by 
their marketing department.  These guys want nothing more than to 
put on a good show and, thus, their movie lacks even a whiff of 
pretension.  (Which, undoubtedly, is a source of frustration for 
many critics.)  All that is good, bad, and ugly about sci-fi and 
disaster films is represented here.  Given the range of intentional 
references-- from the likes of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE to THE WAR OF 
THE WORLDS-- I suspect that both Roland and Dean would even be 
proud to see their movie shown on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. 
It's *that* cool.  (Rated "PG-13"/162 min.)

Grade: B+

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted in triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: July 7, 1996

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